The Gentle Touch has been all but forgotten in the ephemeral world of television, despite being a serious ratings grabber in its day, a Friday night essential with one of the best theme tunes ever to grace a television series. Yet far from being another straightforward cops and robbers series with a leading lady to make it different, The Gentle Touch was an altogether more complex animal. Occasionally banal, often disturbing and frequently brilliant, this was one of the last great examples of television that was controlled by the scripts. Jill Gascoine made a strong central figure, with a perfect mix of feminine allure and compassion, but a convincingly tough manner that she pulled off far more successfully than most. There were no scenes of her effortlessly arresting six foot thugs...this was the real world, where women police officers are treated with as much derision as males. One of the real bonuses was the casting of William Marlowe as Maggie's boss, Bill Russell. Marlowe's fabulous performance is every inch the seen-it-all, fast talking, unromantic and jaded police officer, and the ensemble playing of the other regulars is a delight. Derek Thompson is a good deal more animated here than he was to be in Casualty, and Brian Gwaspari's repulsive Bob Croft showed a mix of sexism, racism and homophobia that gradually became tempered by a respect for Maggie and a few hard learnt lessons.
All this is second fiddle to the main thrust of The Gentle Touch, which is that a good few years before the Bill was doing "issue of the week" storylines, Maggie's team were regularly wandering into Play For Today scenarios of occasionally shocking bleakness, where there were often no true villains and victims, with everyone a mixture of both. Fine examples include P.J. Hammond's brilliant "Damage", with a tremendous performance by Robert Longden as a manic depressive abandoned by his wife to bring up his child alone and the victim of a neighbourhood hate campaign. Hammond's "Solution" was equally affecting, dealing with euthanasia. "Gifts" was a simple and effective reversal of the usual expectations of the crime drama, whilst "Doubt" has to be Jill Gascoine's finest performance, a chilling tale of Maggie suddenly falling foul to a mugging and wondering if she can really cope with 80s Britain from a policewoman's point of view. She delivers a superb monologue to her son Steve (a nice turn by Nigel Rathbone) that is almost a summary of The Gentle Touch's attitudes to law and order. This is 1980, punks and skinheads are becoming a recognised threat in Britain, race riots are making the news. Does anyone appreciate the job they do any more? "Blade" dealt bravely with homosexuality, whilst "Scapegoat" was an extraordinarily daring examination of anti-semitism.
Definitely a contender for finest episode is "Pressures" with William Marlowe pushing tension to the limits in his rivetting performance, as Russell suffers the early stages of a nervous breakdown. A particularly moving ending leaves quite an impression.
The Gentle Touch did have its down side, especially a rather shoddy final season with less agitation in the scripts and some very hit and miss plots, with the exception of the tense supernatural episode "Cure". The final episode ended proceedings with a whimper rather than a bang. For those who remember it however, The Gentle Touch was marvellous television, the Seven Dials setting perfectly captured in the sensual, dark theme music, and sense of compassion and suffering expertly depicted in the writing and acting.
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